Rick Rescorla gave his life while saving more than 2,700 people in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Last week, the Medal of Honor Society announced that Rick Rescorla will be one of three people awarded its highest civilian honor, the Above & Beyond Citizen Medal at a ceremony on Wednesday at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Va. The award will be presented to Kim and Trevor Rescorla, Rick's children.
The Above & Beyond medal is presented each year by the less than 100 living Medal of Honor recipients. In their words, "Inside of us all, a hero lies. For some, it rises up and shows itself through an extraordinary act of courage and selflessness. On the battlefields of their everyday lives, these incredible individuals are moved to act. And so they go willingly, selflessly, courageously -- above and beyond."
The amazing story of Rick Rescorla is well documented in "Heart of a Soldier" by James B. Stewart (Simon & Schuster, 2002). On Sept. 11, Rick Rescorla was on duty as vice president for corporate security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. on the 44th floor of Tower Two of the World Trade Center, when a jumbo jet plowed into Tower One.
The Port Authority directed Rick to keep his people at their desks. Rescorla replied, "Piss off. Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse and it's going to take the whole building with it. I'm getting my people out of here!"
Born in England, Rick served in the British armed forces and then earned a commission as an officer in the U.S. Army. In Vietnam, he fought with the Seventh Cavalry (Airmobile) in the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, described in Gen. Harold Moore's "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young" and is the gritty soldier pictured on the book's cover. Rescorla's men nicknamed him "Hard Core" for his extraordinary courage and he was awarded a Bronze Star for valor.
In 1992, Rescorla warned the Port Authority about the possibility of a truck bomb attack in the unguarded basement of the World Trade Center. He was ignored. When Islamic terrorists used this method in the 1993 attack, Rescorla was instrumental in evacuating the building and was the last man out.
Rescorla then predicted the terrorists would return to finish the job with aircraft. He recommended that Morgan Stanley move to a safer location in New Jersey, but the company's lease in Manhattan did not end until 2006.
At Rescorla's insistence, all employees, including senior executives, began practicing full-blown, no-notice emergency evacuations every three months. There was much bitching and moaning by high-powered stock brokers about being yanked away from their telephones to hike down 40 or 50 stories. But it all paid off on 9/11.
At 9:02 a.m. on Sept. 11, a second airliner slammed into Tower Two. Against orders, Rescorla had already evacuated most of Morgan Stanley's 2,700 employees and hundreds of visitors. Rick reminded his co-workers to "be proud to be an American." He sang "God Bless America" and military songs over his bullhorn to keep up their courage as they headed down to safety.
A Morgan Stanley director told Rescorla he had to get out, too. "As soon as I make sure everyone else is out," Rescorla replied. In a last cell call to his wife Susan, he said, "Stop crying, I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I've never been happier. You made my life." Rick Rescorla was last seen heading up to rescue people who were unable to get down. His remains have never been recovered.
How fitting that America's elite company of heroes, the bearers of the Congressional Medal of Honor, rather than its political leaders will honor Rick Rescorla's courage and patriotism "Above and Beyond" the call of duty.
Giorgino is a retired Navy Surface Warfare Commander and a Gulf War veteran. He now practices law in San Diego. He may be contacted at email@example.com.